by Geoff Larcom, Published March 09, 2010
YPSILANTI - Vernon C. Polite, who had served as dean of the Eastern Michigan University College of Education since the summer of 2005, died Monday evening after an illness that lasted several months. He was 61.
At Eastern, Polite was a major campus figure as he led one of the largest colleges of education in the nation. The college has more than 5,000 students, and one of four teachers in Michigan is an Eastern graduate.
Polite was known as a strong advocate for collaboration in the learning community, and for his commitment to diversity in the academic work of the college and in public schools.
Colleagues also cited Polite’s personal kindness, his impact on education issues and his concern for social justice and understanding.
Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin said, “Dean Polite was a warm and caring person, and an outstanding educator and leader. He will be deeply missed by the Eastern Michigan University family. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
“Dean Polite's commitment to advancing educational excellence at all levels was legendary,” said Jack Kay, EMU provost and executive vice president. “His enthusiasm, expertise, grace, and charm will be deeply missed. Education at Eastern Michigan University, in Michigan, and throughout the nation is better because of Vernon.”
“Vernon was a great ambassador for education and for social justice across the nation,” said Michael Bretting, interim dean of the College of Education. “The loss is overwhelming.”
“The loss of Dean Polite’s leadership will leave at void at Eastern Michigan University and in the education community,” said Sharon Abraham, director of diversity for Eastern Michigan. “His passion, honesty and love for his work can’t be matched.”
“He was so patient and relaxed,” said Casey Wooster, administrative associate for the dean. “He came in and said good morning to everyone, as busy as he was. Every afternoon, when I was leaving, he would always thank me.”
Polite, a Detroit native who served as a principal in the Oak Park Schools in Michigan, specialized in research focused on organizational change, leadership in higher education, urban school leadership and minority educational issues.
He was the driving force behind two statewide conferences at Eastern. The first was the “State of The African-American Male in Michigan: A Courageous Conversation,” held in 2006. In 2008, he organized “Nurturing Our Future as African-American Females: A Courageous Conversation.”
He was the founding dean of Bowie State University’s School of Education, serving at that institution, located in Maryland, from 2001 until coming to Eastern in 2005.
Prior to his time at Bowie State, Polite was the Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes Professor of Education at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. from 1996-2001. In that position, he coordinated all graduate educational administration programs.
He also was an assistant professor at The Catholic University of America from 1991-95 and an associate professor there from 1995-96. During his career, he also taught in Boston Public Schools and worked in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Department of Education.
Polite received his Ph.D. in educational leadership and sociology from Michigan State University; his master's degree in secondary education/educational administration from Boston State College; and his bachelor's degree in sociology from Boston University.
He is survived by his sister, Carol Brooks, and brother, Willie Brooks, both of Detroit; nieces Gail, Regina, Lisa and Pamela, and nephew Christopher; and cousins Mercedes Broadfoot, Gail Washington, Tony Ball and Sandra Miree.
A funeral Mass will be held on Monday, March 15, at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, 9844 Woodward, in Detroit. The Rev. Norman Thomas will officiate. There will be a 10 a.m. family hour for guests to express condolences, followed by an 11 a.m. Mass.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Bearline Wallace Brooks Endowed Scholarship Fund, in care of the Eastern Michigan University Foundation, 1349 S. Huron, Ypsilanti, MI 48197. Please note that the contribution is in memory of Dr. Vernon Polite.